Philip Nel > Courses > English 355: Literature for Children (Fall 2016) > Journal > Genre
English 355: Literature for Children
Required Texts
Schedule of Assignments
Terms listed here in roughly the order that they'll appear during the semester

didactic literature: Primary goal is to teach a lesson to children. Mary Wollstonecraft, Mariah Edgeworth, Mary Martha Sherwood

fairy tale: Setting lacks specific details (time, place). Its flat characters each have singlular motivation (not complex characters). Plot is usually formulaic (repeated pattern, journeys. Tends to be a moral (sometimes stated, sometimes implied). Grimm, Perrault, Chiang Mi.

poem: A composition written in verse. Sound is as important as meaning. The spacing and grouping of lines on a page is as important as meaning.

nonsense: Not an absence of sense, but a frustration of expectations about sense. Treats language as a game, playing with its rules (puns, double meanings, taking figurative language literally, logical inversions…).  Carroll, Lear, Juster.

fantasy: In a parallel world, our hero (who seems ordinary but turns out to be special) goes on a quest. Unlike fairy tales, fantasy offers more fully developed characters, imaginary worlds, and plots.  Carroll, Juster, Rowling, Tolkien, Lewis.

allegory: As M. H. Abrams writes, it is “a narrative fiction in which the agents and action, and sometimes the setting as well” make sense on the “‘literal’ or primary level of signification” and on a “second, correlated order agents, concepts, and events.” John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is classic example. On our syllabus: Norton Juster.

call-and-response: African American poetic form (found in gospel, blues, oral storytelling), in which it is always the role of one person in audience to disagree. An interactive narrative form — story isn’t finished until audience says it is.  Herron.

multicultural children’s literature: strives to represent cultural differences to young readers. Characters need to be portrayed as unique & not as racial/cultural representatives. Book should avoid stereotypes in appearance, behavior, character traits, vocabulary. Culture must be accurately portrayed. Dialect cannot be presented as substandard English.

picture book: The art plays a central role in telling the story. When there are words, they’re interdependent with pictures: one does not supplement the other. Instead, they are semi-autonomous, signifying on their own and in tension with each other.

metafiction: a book that reflects on what a book is or should be; it self-consciously plays with the form of the book.  It’s fiction about fiction.

fable: Features animal protagonists, satirizes human behavior, has a meaning or moral (can be implicit or explicit).

horror fiction: designed to elicit emotional or psychological responses of terror, horror, fright. How?  As early-twentieth century horror writer H.P. Lovecraft put it, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

graphic novel: a highbrow term for “comics”; tends to refer to bound volumes instead of stapled-together comic books, but both “comics” and “graphic novel” describe the same medium.  How does that medium work? “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence,” according to Scott McCloud. Many have noted that comics render time as space. Still others point to the fact that there are many tensions (not just those juxtapositions identified by McCloud).

realism: creates its sense of the real by focusing on details of everyday life (bonus term for details of everyday life: the quotidian).  Offers three-dimensional characters, allowing reader a glimpse into characters’ psychology.

social realism: like realism, but with social goals. In other words, not merely reflecting everyday life, but suggesting that this life needs to be changed.

Bildungsroman: novel of education, tracking protagonist’s passage from childhood into maturity and recognition of his/her identity and role in the world. Classic example: Dickens’ Great Expectations.  Examples from this class: Ryan, Williams-Garcia.

Kunstlerroman: novel of education, but for artist — tracks her/his artistic maturation. Examples from this class: Ryan, Woodson.

memoir: An autobiography drawing upon the experiences and memories of the writer. Non-fiction, but its perspective intimately shaped by the author.

Recommended Resources: Contexts (for Journals) | Blogs | Censorship | Diversity | Writing | Research | Education

Contexts (for Journals)




  • NAME, the National Association for Multicultural Education
  • Reading While White: “Allies for Racial Diversity & Inclusion in Books for Children and Teens”
  • Teaching for Change: offers an anti-bias curriculum, resources for teaching about the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, recommended books, and ways for parents to get involved.
  • We Need Diverse Books





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